Paid Parental Leave Does Not Replace Workplace Flexibility

8_Arbeitsplätze_für_7_Wäschefrauen_und_1_Wäscher_mit_Waschzuber,_Waschbrett,_Gießkanne_zum_Sonnen-Bleichen,_Wäscheklammern_und_Wechselgriff-Bügeleisen.jpgWhat’s the best approach to take on parental leave benefits when it comes to recruiting and retaining existing, new or expectant parents? Is it all about paid leave? Or should the focus be on work-life balance? Or maybe a little from column ‘A’ and a little from column ‘B’?

Hot on the heels of being criticized by many  for banning telecommuting, and for taking an unusually short maternity leave, Yahoo CEO, Marisa Mayer decided to enhance Yahoo’s parental leave benefits by providing up to 16 weeks of paid leave (with benefits) for eligible new moms and eight weeks for new dads. New parents also will receive $500 to spend on housecleaning and other related needs.

Under the new leave policy, Yahoo will provide more time off than what is required under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, covered employers are only required to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of leave to bond with their newborn child. In addition, and more important to a new parent’s financial peace of mind, Yahoo’s leave will be paid (as compared to the FMLA, which is unpaid).

Currently, there are only two states, New Jersey and California that provide paid leave insurance (i.e. a monetary benefit that serves as a partial wage replacement during an employee’s leave). Washington is slated to add paid leave in 2015.

Yahoo’s parental leave policy is more generous than most employers (though not as generous as those of its competitors Google and Facebook). But it is unlikely to be of much help when it comes to recruiting and retaining people whose childrearing years have passed, or those that do not want to have children.  Also, whether it is 12 weeks (under the FMLA) or 16 weeks (under Yahoo’s policy), the time goes quickly – yet the trials and tribulations of parenting continue to march on.

For example, after 16 weeks parents still struggle with:

  • Sleep deprivation;
  • Breastfeeding issues;
  • Medical issues (which can implicate the ADA – postpartum depression, for example may persist beyond the FMLA’s leave entitlement);
  • Juggling a new schedule with babysitters, daycare or school;
  • Balancing the lives of older siblings with a new baby and a job; and
  • The beat goes on.

Employers interested in recruiting AND retaining top employees should consider the overall importance of work-life balance in addition to paid leave – it does not have to be an either/or equation. Having flexibility through a telecommuting option lets parents schedule work around important doctor visits, preschool events, athletic competitions and the occasional lunch duty at their child’s school. It also allows parents to continuously earn a living without feeling like they are missing every moment of their child’s life.

In fact, the Working Mother 100 Best Companies found that 77 percent of employees use flextime and 50 percent telecommute. So despite Mayer’s well publicized expansion of Yahoo’s leave policy, the company’s work/life flexibility still leaves something to be desired.

The Department of Labor (DOL) highlighted the increasing importance of workplace flexibility with the creation of an online Workplace Flexibility Toolkit. The toolkit supplies employers, job seekers, employees, policymakers and researchers with over 170 resources devoted to promoting programs for providing workplace flexibility.

Want to know more about the FMLA?

  • XpertHR will be sponsoring a webinar on HR.com today featuring a pair of longtime Littler Mendelson employment attorneys speaking about a new development affecting the FMLA. The webinar is at 8 p.m. UK time, 3 p.m. EST.

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